Japan children to spend more time on math, science

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese schoolchildren will spend more time on core subjects such as math and science under guidelines unveiled on Friday, in an effort to boost academic standards months after the country slipped in global education rankings.

The changes, to be implemented gradually from next year, reverse reforms implemented in 2000 to create a more “relaxed” environment that would foster creativity and reduce rote learning.

An OECD survey published in December showed Japanese 15-year-olds fell to sixth place from second among 57 countries in science, to 10th place from sixth in maths and to 15th from 14th in reading.

The new guidelines, which Kyodo news agency said would be formalized in March after a period of public comment, would also strengthen “moral education” but stopped short of making ethics a formal classroom subject, as many conservatives had advocated.

“Many people recognize the need for ethics education,” Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters. “There are various ways to do this even without making it a formal subject.”

The guidelines call for bolstering education on Japanese traditions and culture in all subjects, including study of traditional instruments and compulsory martial arts like judo and kendo in middle school. Foreign-language studies would also be compulsory in primary school, Kyodo reported.

Time spent on maths and science will be increased, but schools will retain the current five-day week, with no return to Saturday classes, the report said.

There will be cuts in the time spent on “general studies” which was introduced to allow students to explore their own interests and gave teachers a lot of discretion on lesson content, Kyodo said.

Education ministry officials denied that the new guidelines would lead to a return to the traditional “cramming” that some say resulted in a lack of creativity among students, Kyodo said.

But the number of items on the primary school curriculum increases to 131 from the current 78 in Japanese language and to 181 from the current 126 in arithmetic, the report said.

Education minister Kisaburo Tokai said he expects the revised guidelines to help improve the quality of education in Japan and lead to an improvement in academic standards, Kyodo said.

Reporting by Linda Sieg and Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani